A true finesse approach to success
Every five years or so it seems, a single bass technique comes along and revolutionizes the sport. See Tube fishing, Carolina Rigging (yuk), Slider Fishing and Split shotting to name a few. These days drop shot or down shot fishing is getting any attention that the Senko isn’t. Although not a new method by any means, drop shotting has taken a firm hold on Western anglers and has manufacturers scrambling to build drop shot specific baits.
As I stated, drop shotting, in principle is not a new technique. It dates back a long way to the Salt Water circle. Although most drop fishing utilized a dropper loop rather than a hook tied directly to the main line, the idea of a weight below the bait is the way people have fished for flatfish for eons. I remember fishing plugs for stripers with a teaser tied 14 inches above my diving plug. I tied a straight shank worm hook directly to the main line and set up a 4” Kalin’s grub that often got the attention of a hungry striper. As far as bass fishing is concerned, down shotting began in Japan about 6 or 7 years ago. You see, over there, water is at a premium. They have relatively few bodies of water. Small lakes see intense pressure with hundreds of anglers competing in tournaments. Anglers fish almost elbow to elbow in these deep clear waters. Drop shotting became the method of choice to catch these highly sought after fish. Western Pro’s like Don Iovino and Aaron Martens learned this method and began to perfect it on their home waters. A few major tournaments have been won on it as well.
When you read about drop shot fishing, you often see it described as a great deep water approach for clear waters. In fact, pick up any magazine that talks about the gin clear waters out West and you’ll likely get a lesson in drop shotting 101. Anglers team up their electronics and drop shotting for presentations as deep as 100ft. I know it works, but deep vertical fishing isn’t my bag. I recognized the fact that this method was as versatile as they come very early on.
I’ve been tinkering with it since the 2000 season, modifying it to fit my fishing needs and my geographic limitations. Living on LI, one must understand that the vast majority of bass water is quite shallow. Sure there are a few places one could go to drown their baits in 50 plus feet of water but you really have to go out of your way for that. I had begun to think of the drop shot on a different level, a horizontal level. For the sake of this article, lets consider 15ft of water to be the deepest end of our shallow water fishing. I have come to rely heavily on the drop shot rig in water from 10 inches in depth all the way to 15 feet in depth. Now, because we are fishing the rig in fairly shallow water, it becomes important to reconsider its mechanics. Here, you would be seriously limiting yourself by fishing it vertically. I liken it to ice fishing in extremely shallow water, there is no point.
The horizontal presentation is something bass see on a regular basis from anglers chucking plugs, spinner baits and a host of other baits. The obvious question here is, why fish this rig in place of a split shot, mojo, Carolina or Texas rig? The answer is simple. When you stop retrieving a bait using any of the standard methods, the bait falls to the bottom. With the drop shot, it hovers in place without moving. This can be a huge advantage. One can hover a bait above a weed line or pause the bait on the edge of a weed line or bed. The bait looks and acts alive. I’ve been into the finesse movement for a long time. I rely heavily on Split shot and Mojo rigs. The past several years have seen me using the Drop shot in place of those rigs at certain times.
In my opinion, Drop Shotting is a true finesse technique. Sure, some big name guys will win a big name tournament throwing an 8 inch worm in 6 feet of water using a 1 ounce weight. It will happen but it will be the extreme rather than the norm. For the basis of finesse, I use spinning rods for all of my drop shotting.
You certainly do not need the $400.00 Yamamoto or Loomis rods to experience consistent success with this rig. I fish products I can afford. For shallow water drop shot fishing, you would be hard pressed to find a better rod than a 6-9 ML Kistler California series drop Shot rod. This rod has all of the backbone you need and a soft tip. It is sensitive as strikes are telegraphed through its IM7 blank. It is light and comfortable to fish with all day. I have also used a 6 foot model that was good as well. For bank fishing or wading I go even smaller to a 5 foot UL model. Let me stress that this is for fun fishing. On a boat, you want a longer rod that moves more line with less effort and provides better leverage. My shallow water presentation focuses on using lighter line, light weights and small baits. This would make bait casting gear inefficient and down right difficult to use.
I am a huge fan of the Shimano Stradic MGf series. I particularly like the 2500. This reel is the perfect compliment to the 6-9 Kistler Rod. This reel that great drag smoothness and line capacity. It features smooth gears and infinite anti reverse. If you maintain it, it will not fail you. I don’t dunk my reels so I can’t comment on its performance if it is submerged. I can say I have seven of these reels and I’ve not had a problem with any of them. It is as infallible a reel as they come. Line seems to strip off a spinning reel much easier than a bait casting reel for this method. Free spooling a bait down is time consuming and has to be done right to avoid snarls with casting gear. I also rely heavily on the Sustain series which is even more infallible than the Stradic.
I am a huge fan of Yo-Zuri line. That is my optimum choice. I don’t use Berkley, Stren or any other for that matter. I sometimes use P-Line and Power Pro for my bait casting work. For drop shot fishing, I prefer 6 or 8lb test. These diameters will not cause any memory problems on you wide arbor spools. Standard Hybrid line despite being a copolymer/Fluoro mix won’t coil up all that much. If you go any heavier, you might see some birds nests. I like either the smoke or green lines for all of my fishing.
I also like Bagley’s Super Silver Thread. This is a thin diameter line that works better with techniques whenever you do not have to slam the hook home. I prefer it when using a wacky rig or drop shot. I do not use braid for drop shotting. On my 5ft UL, I have used Fireline with success in the past.
There are several options for applying weights to a drop shot rig. I prefer the swivel clip weights made by Owner called Down Shot weights. These are small bell shaped sinkers with a swivel clip that keeps the line is place without slipping. I use them in the following sizes: 1/16oz, 1/8oz, 3/16oz and 1/4oz. XPS weights are similar. They are made by BPS but feature a cylindrical shape that comes through just about any snag with ease. I don’t see the point of using tungsten here, I expect to lose a few weights so high priced tungsten would not be an economical choice nor is it an advantage. To employ the drop shot on a horizontal plane in shallow water, I rely on lighter weights. Despite the 1/16oz and 1/8oz sizes, I have no problems keeping in contact with the bottom. These lighter weights hang up less than heavier ones and I feel are an advantage once the fish picks the bait up. They likely seem natural as a fish drags the rig. There are other options besides the clip weights. You could use a split shot weight or peg a bullet weight. These options in my opinion are inferior because they tend to hang the bait up when they come through weeds and easily slip off. The clip weight system is a little more forgiving.
TYING THE RIG
The drop shot rig consists of a palomar knot with a really long tag end. To tie the rig, make sure you point the hook up so that the point is closest to the rod tip. Tie your knot and pull the tag end around through the hook eye. This will force the hook to stand 90 degrees from the line and it will keep the bait straight. As far as leader is concerned, I prefer about 12 to 14 inches for most applications. In shallow water, I try to figure out how far off the bottom the grass is growing. If it grows 10 inches off the bottom, a 12 to 14 inch leader is perfect for suspending the bait just above the weeds. This gives bass a good look at the bait. To secure the clip weight, simply make a small overhand knot at the bottom of the tag end. I have experimented with the pre tied rigs but usually became frustrated or disappointed with them. They come coiled and are a pain to straighten out. They are also affixed to the main line by a snell loop which weakens very quickly.
WORKING THE RIG
Since this is a horizontal presentation, it is a method where we are going to drag the rig on the bottom. There are two thoughts regarding retrieve when fishing a drop shot rig, movement or no movement. At different times I employ both. I like to work this rig slowly. Movement is minimal yet I often find myself ever so slightly jiggling the rod so the tip bounces about an inch or two. This is a very controlled, and minimal movement. This gets the bait wiggling slightly. I must over emphasize that if you where watching me do this movement from another boat, you would not be able to detect it. As I work the bait, I keep the line taut. This allows me to tell what is going on under water. I can feel differences in the bottom. If you are new to a technique, the obvious obstacle that you must overcome is learning what the bait or rig feels like when you fish it. This can be a process of uncertainty. It is so hard to go out and fish a rig for the first time and expect good results. I’ve always advised people to learn what the rig feels like and when you fish it, if you feel something different, you likely have a bite. This is what I refer to as “weighing the line”. Learn what the rig feels like on the end of your line. Anything lighter or heavier is a strike.
The way I fish this rig, I would compare it to working a Carolina Rig or Split Shot rig. My approach is much slower. I make short pitches about 25 feet in front of my boat and I visualize a target zone that I want to bring that rig through. It may be only a few feet long. Once I get through the zone, I reel in and cast again. I do not fish this rig back to the boat. I opt to use this rig anytime I think bass are relating to baitfish that are situated close to the bottom.
DETECTING THE STRIKE
If you learn how to weigh the line, you will be way ahead of the learning curve. Often as I move the rod tip, I feel a bit of tension. This mushy feeling indicates to me that a bass has taken my offering. To set the hook, I reel in steadily and slowly lift the rod tip. This is almost exactly like the Slider hookset. The super sharp hooks penetrate with little effort. This is also why I prefer nose hooked baits over a Texas rigged bait on this set up. With a Texas rigged drop shot, you must penetrate the plastic and the bass. Light line and the hard hookset necessary to do this will almost certainly break your line. With a nose hooked bait, the bass get all of it every time and there is no need to over exert pressure on the line. When a bass is hooked, keep steady pressure on the fish. Slack line may result in you losing the fish.
ON THE WATER
The first thing I’ll tell you is that this is a great way to catch a ton of fish. You likely won’t catch big fish with any regularity but it is a great way to a limit and an occasional chunker. I used drop shot rigs en route to two tournament victories this past season. In one event, I realized quickly that it was the only way I was going to get a limit and it paid off with more than 10lbs. A word of caution: use a net. Do not try to hoist the fish over the side of the boat. You will likely break the line every time you attempt this.
I prefer to use this method as a fun fishing technique. It can be devastating. This method can be used just about anywhere, in any type of water. I regularly employ it in early Spring, Summer, Fall and early Winter in stained water. It is not simply a clear water presentation. For sheer fun, I love using it in small creeks for smallmouth bass. Here I’ll use a smaller rod and cast the rig against the current. I stop the rig when it gets next to a large boulder or an area I think might hold a good fish. Here I want the bait to mimic a sculpin or madtom. I go with a short 6 or 8inch tag end. I think this best duplicates the bottom dwelling baitfish. Smallies just destroy this set up.
Keep in mind that you are fishing with an open hook. You could use a Texas rigged bait but you would have to set the hook hard and with the thin light line, you may risk breaking off. With this said, you should try to keep the bait close to bottom structure but avoid actually penetrating it.
DROP SHOT MODIFICATION’S
I’m always looking for new ways to make my presentations more effective and the drop shottrig has given me some pretty good ideas. One of my best and most fun is a double shot rig. This consists of a small balsa shad fly tied about 6 to 8 inches above the standard hook. This fly can be purchased at BPS. It has a neat little hackle and a realistic balsa body and is a dead ringer for natural forage. I often utilize this on my UL set up for double smallie action. It is a panic when you get a double header. I don’t recommend the double rig for tournaments though. It is my belief that once you tie a knot above the palomar that holds the hook, you substantially decrease the strength of the line. Fun only !!
DROP SHOT BAITS
I could likely talk about baits for weeks. Drop shot baits would be no exception. I’ve come to the realization that drop shot fishing is true finesse fishing. To me it would not be fun any other way. With this said, I stick with smaller baits. Very rarely, if ever, will I tie on lures longer than 4 inches on my D/S rig. I think I look at drop shotting as the last pure frontier in bass fishing. Not that I’m a purist but this technique is special to me. I am all for matching the baits I select, to the natural forage base of a particular water. It is a safe bet to assume that I do not use any wacky orange, pink or gaudy colored baits. Although I’m sure at one time or another they may actually work.
I rely on a small number of manufactured baits in my D/S arsenal. The first baits are from that legend in plastics, Yamamoto. I really love the 30 series grub. This little grub is so natural and deadly when nose hooked. It is the first bait that I drop shotted with and it remains an integral piece of my approach. The 30 series grub is a perfect bait fish imitator. I like the salt n pepper and pearl gold/silver flake colors. The next Yammie lure I use is the tiny Ika. This little gem was built with D/S fishing in mind. I simply can’t see many other uses for it. I like the fact that it is a thin bait with tails that give it a unique action. As always, I go for natural colors. Browns, Greens and pearls are my choices.
Moving on, I use quite a few baits from Charlie Case. I absolutely kill with a small helgie fished in a tiny smallie creek. That bait is the most realistic of its kind. Case builds them right too. He offers quality baits in great colors at affordable prices. The Case Madtom is another gem that I like to D/S with. This bait is a killer spring and early season lure when you know bass have been fighting off intruders to their nests. This on will readily get smacked despite being a bit bulky on the rig. Throw out a black or natural colored ‘Tom and hold on, magic will happen. Charlie recently sent me a mess of his new mini stick. This is a Senko type lure that is loaded with salt and has a good fall rate. Best of all is that it is by no means the frail, fragile lure like its protégé. The last massed produced bait that I like is made by BPS. The 3 inch XPS shad is a perfect bottom dwelling bait fish bait. It has 3-D eyes and a small paddle tail. It is a natural for rigging through the nose. It has a little anise scent to it as well. I like this a bunch.
I have been very serious about hand pouring my own lures and this has translated into many new options for me. I have been pouring a 3” totally round salty, scented stick nicknamed the SD, which stands for Super Duty. This little bait has been fantastic for me. Nose hooked, it imitates a small baitfish and the combination of salt and scent give it serious holding power. The bait doesn’t need to move all that much as I think the fish eat it due to visual reasons over vibration or wiggle. The 4” weenie style worm is also easy to pour and very effective on the business end of the drop shot rig. Again, the worm represents a bottom dwelling baitfish and because it suspends a foot or so off of the bottom, it is easy prey for bass on the prowl.
Gear Breakdown: Drop Shot Rig
Rod: Kistler 6-9 ML California Series Drop Shot Special
Reel: Shimano Stradic MGf 2500
Line: Yo Zuri Hybrid 4lb, Silver Thread 6lb
Hook: Gamakatsu Split Shot
Terminal: Owner DownShot weight